Header - Elaine Potoker, PH.D. Loeb Sullivan School of Intl. Business and Logistics
A View of the Pasantías (Stays) with my Colegas Ticos, by Elaine S. Potoker, Ph.D.


Food is often the subject of conversation at a Tico gathering. That makes me happy as I love to cook (and eat!). I’ve eaten pinto gallo, a typical Costa Rican dish which can be served at any time of the day, but known more for a breakfast dish. Translated, it means “spotted rooster.” It is a mixture of rice and beans. Olla de Carne is another dish I’ve enjoyed on several occasions. The sustancia is the broth which arrives in a bowl, of course. On a plate (aparte) there is usually a presentation of vegetables, and beef. The ingredients may include, but are not limited to carrots, elote–a variety of of corn-on-the-cob, yucca–yellow is my favorite, yam, and others not recognizable. There are many varieties of bananas here, and one variety of small banana (guineo) is also a favorite ingredient. I’ve never added avocado to soup–yummy. The whole dish is “muy rico” (delicious), as is said here. So far the best olla de carne I’ve sampled was at one of the many restaurants at the Central Market in San José. The beef was rib meat (from the costilla); so00 tender. Another local favorite dish of mine is corvina, or sea bass. While in Manuel Antonio, I was advised to eat the whole fish (here the red snapper or pargo) a la parilla (or barbequed).

Costa Ricans certainly love their sweets. Pastry shops (pastelerías) are everywhere. Near the south side of the campus, on the Calle de Amargura (which translates as Street of Bitterness), eateries (sodas) and student hang-outs are plentiful–along with copy shops and pizza places. A favorite pastry shop of mine is Pastelería de Dona. A lunch there of chicken and rice, fried plantain, and a coconut flan to go is about $3.50. Their donuts are also exceptional. My favorite: chocolate-covered with caramel inside (¡riquísimo!). Pastries here are fatal–just too good.

Love for sweets carries over to a favorite Tico beverage, or frescos. These are natural fruit drinks made from fruit, water or milk, and sugar. Popular varieties include tamarindo (tamarind), maracuya (passion fruit), carambola (star fruit), or cas (sour guava). In milk, papaya, mora (blackberry) and guanabana (soursop) are apparently favorites.

I love Costa Rican coffee–since my days of coming here in my business life. It is outstanding. Unfortunately, I no longer drink caffeinated, and Ticos look at you as if your …well, one doesn’t ask for de-caffeinated. You can ask, but it is not available. So what does one do? (I just smell it. That’s all it takes.) I was able to find a bag of decaffeinated (Britt) in the supermarket. Quite good, actually.

Near Manuel Antonio (see Travel, below), there is Costa Rica’s home-grown version of a coffee/cafe-restaurant (Café Milagro)–one of two locations in the country. I was able to buy decaf coffee there. The coffee was quite good along with the banana pancakes. They ship coffee to many places in the world.

Pipas. This is a greenish coconut…not fully matured as we might know it. The top is hacked off with a machete and a straw is stuck in the top, and voilá , “una pipa.” The liquid is the best thirst-quencher, particularly when the coconut is chilled prior.

Sopa Caribeña de Mariscos. This was a delicious soup I had in a soda (see above). I couldn’t figure out what the fish was that was in the soup. Turned out it was squid. I couldn’t believe it because it was so soft and unlike the squid I knew.

Pan (Bread). There are sooo many varieties of bread available here. There is pan dulce (a sweet bread that can have many different types of fillings such as ham and cheese, or just cheese, etc.), pan francesa (like the bagettes we know), and other varieties too varied to mention. What interesting to me is the importance of having it in the house, and fresh to have early (with coffee)–for breakfast, and/or mid-morning (with coffee, a cafecito), and with lunch, and (of course) with coffee–like mid afternoon. The bread chosen is usually sweet for breakfast and morning, but that is really a matter of preference, or, a su gusto. If a spur of the moment gathering is to happen with a friend or friends, the conversation will be, “why don’t we stop at the house for a cafecito?” Invariably, the inviter will say, “oh…I have no bread …let’s stop for some on the way.” And so, back we go to a panadería to buy bread, rolls, and/or more. I just love this stuff!

Helado (Ice Cream). One chain of ice cream retailers is Pops. I’m hooked on their coconut.

Well, with all these food details, one might think I should be about 2 x the size I was when I left. However, this is not the case. In fact, I ‘ve lost weight. I guess it has to to with all the running around I’m doing…catching buses and walking. I don’t miss driving. I’ve always cooked pretty healthy; and so those habits continue here, but with what is commonly available. So I eat mainly fish and chicken, rice and beans, green vegetables, steamed. I’m liking this…a lot.

Funny…I am already missing Thanksgiving–my favorite holiday, and the food. Yep, that is uniquely ours. I’ll probably seek out some turkey somewhere, as it is sold in the Automercado–a higher end supermarket.

Chicharrón. I don’t know how I could have forgotten to mention this earlier, as I buy it every week after aerobics (!) and with a pipa–see above. In Mexico, it is fried pork skins (rinds). Here it can also be pork rinds. However, chicharones de carne, is pork, that is fried in pieces–crispy outside and tender in. I’m hooked on it. It is freshly made every day at this carnicería–butcher. So first the trip to the fruit stand for the pipa, and then the chicharrón.

Tamales. Many people have eaten these somewhere or another. Visit this site to understand their meaning in Costa Rica http://www.cocori.com/library/crinfo/tamal.htm. These are quite yummy and inexpensive (25 cents up to a $1.00 or so): Stuffed with maize, some carrot, some chicharrón, a slice or two of red sweet pepper, and a piece or two of potato, and wrapped in a lovely banana leaf. As they are a ritual for Christmas, there appear to be more commonly seen right now. I buy mine in the same place I buy my 1x per week chicharrón snack.

Other Christmas dishes. It is Christmas party time here. Besides tamales, I have eaten pozol, which is a delicious soup of pork, pinto beans, cilantro, hominy and other ingredients I hope to find out if I can convince a colleague to share the recipe. I have eaten many other things, and will try to list them here.

Limonese food. I went to Port Limón at the end of November to visit JAPDEVA, or the Port Authority for the Atlantic, and also responsible for development in Limón. I ate the best mixed ceviche — a raw fish w/shrimp marinated in lime juice– that I have ever eaten. The corvina, fried plantain, rice–all quite good. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica has a rich variety of foods, to include influence from the Islands. Some dishes are spicey. The rice and beans are often cooked in coconut oil and are seasoned with a Panamanian pepper. (I need to look for that stuff before I go home!)